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Kong que (Peacock)

Posted by martinteller on January 21, 2013

The story of three working class siblings in late 70’s China.  The eldest, Weiguo (Li Feng), is overweight and a little slow after an unspecified “brain disease” from his childhood.  In the middle is Weihong (Zhang Jingchu), a rebellious girl who dreams of being a paratrooper.  The youngest is Weiqiang (Lu Yulai), a schoolboy whose adolescent crush on a classmate gets him in hot water.

This is one of those mystery movies from my watchlist.  I don’t know how I heard of it or why I wanted to see it.  It could be because Gu Changwei (making his directorial debut) was cinematographer on some fantastic films by Zhang Yimou and Jiang Wen.  And it is definitely a cinematographer’s film.  Not too showy, but loaded with stunning compositions and memorable images… like Weihong riding her bicycle as a parachute billows out behind her, or the sad sight of Weiguo holding a giant sunflower for the girl who wants nothing to do with him.

The film is sublimely simple.  Each of the siblings has a section devoted to them, always starting with the same meal on the patio and then spinning off in different directions.  Weihong’s is the first and the longest (although there is apparently a four-hour version of this movie, that I’d love to see) and the best, although all have their strengths.  Weihong’s clumsy steps towards self-realization and womanhood, coaxing her younger brother to purchase a sex manual for her.  Weiguo’s being taken advantage of by bullies… including at one point nearly meeting a horrible fate at the hands of his own siblings.  Weigiang’s awkwardness turning into rebellion.  These aren’t grand dramatic moments, but small, heartfelt tiles in the mosaic of life.  There are small triumphs and minor setbacks.  Each person sees life through a different prism, trying to find their own happiness, redefining their dreams.

Bittersweet and consistently beautiful.  Although it takes place at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution, the film is free of political commentary (at least, there’s none that I could discern).  It just focuses on people’s lives, bringing these characters to life with fine, understated performances and small gestures.  Something about it feels very rich and vibrant, it’s a world worth spending time in despite some sad events.  The beauty is there under the surface, like the peacock hiding his feathers.  This movie has top 100 potential.  Rating: Great (93)


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